One way or another, Britain is expected to have its second female prime minister.
The Conservative Party took another step on Thursday in its process to replace British Prime Minister David Cameron, winnowing the contest to two candidates: Home Secretary Theresa May and Junior Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom.
When the contest is concluded in September, one of them will become the first woman to lead Britain since Margaret Thatcher, also a Conservative, stepped down in 1990. The winner will take over as Britain grapples with how to carry through with its stunning decision last month to withdraw from the EU, a choice that Cameron opposed and led him to announce that he would step aside once the party chose a successor.
May quietly supported remaining in the EU, but has since said that she respects the outcome of the June 23 referendum and that she will seek the best possible deal for the UK as it negotiates its withdrawal from the bloc. She dominated the first stage of the selection process, in which the field is narrowed to two candidates through voting by the 330 Conservative members of the House of Commons.
May, 59, remains the favorite, but in the next round will be judged by a different constituency: registered party members, many of whom were vociferous supporters of leaving the EU.
Conservative Party headquarters has for days been unable or unwilling to disclose how many registered voters there are, but the House of Commons Library said that the latest published figure of 149,800 stems from December 2013. Voters will mail in their ballots, with the winner, to be announced on Sept. 9, becoming party leader and prime minister without having to call a general election.
Leadsom, 53, the runner-up in Thursday’s round of voting by members of parliament, was a vocal advocate of leaving the EU. In finishing second and qualifying for the final round, she eliminated British Justice Secretary Michael Gove, who helped lead the “Leave” campaign. Gove had announced his candidacy just before the deadline last week, and in doing so torpedoed the hopes of his partner in the Leave campaign, former London mayor Boris Johnson, to succeed Cameron.
May holds one of the highest-profile posts in the British government and is considered the more experienced candidate — serious and competent, but lacking charisma.
Leadsom, who had a low profile and entered government as a junior minister in 2014, has been accused of inflating her resume. She put her 25 years of working in financial services before becoming a legislator in 2010 at the center of her leadership campaign, but those who worked with her have told reporters that she exaggerated her role at Barclays Bank and Invesco Perpetual. She told Sky News that “My CV is correct.”
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